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Dunedin's unsung heroes stepped into the limelight last night as The Star hosted its seventh annual Dunedin Stars awards event celebrating the achievements of the city's volunteers.
About 130 people attended last night's "Dunedin Stars" 2011 awards night, held in association with Volunteering Otago in the week of International Volunteer Day, December 5.
The event, at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, was attended by 44 nominees, their nominators, Allied Press management, Star staff, civic leaders and invited guests.
During last night's ceremony, Community Spirit awards were presented to Michael Ferrari (Supreme Award), Joy Henderson (Merit Award) and Sharon Bain (Merit Award), recognising their selfless and tireless efforts to enrich their local communities. Young Star awards were presented to Ashleigh Keen-Burrow (Supreme Award), Chris Bernhardt (Merit Award) and Nathan Burns (Merit Award), recognising their outstanding resolve, mature judgement and community effort.
Star editor Helen Speirs, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and Volunteering Otago manager Anna Clere congratulated all of the Dunedin Stars 2011 nominees on their commitment to making Dunedin a better place to live.
Miss Speirs said Star staff were "constantly humbled by the volunteers who give so much to our community and expect nothing in return".
The Dunedin Stars awards were an extension of The Star's ongoing efforts to support its community and to highlight people making a positive contribution, Miss Speirs said.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull told the gathering the awards recognised not only the nominees, but all of the unsung volunteers they represented.
"Volunteer work benefits all of us - it is the glue that cements our community together," Mr Cull said.
Community service was not only of benefit to the community, but also to those doing the volunteering, enabling them to gain skills, friendship and new perspectives.
Mr Cull also thanked The Star for providing the stage "on which these wonderful achievements can be strutted".
Volunteering Otago manager Anna Clere said volunteers in New Zealand contributed 270 million hours of unpaid work for non-profit organisations each year, a contribution valued at $3 billion a year.
Since it was founded 25 years ago, 15,000 volunteers had registered with Volunteering Otago across a wide range of areas.
Volunteering was "a precious gift, which benefits us all in the end," Mrs Clere said.
"Without volunteers, our community would be a very different place." Nominees for this year's Dunedin Stars awards can be found helping others in all sectors of Dunedin society, including sport, the arts, business, social agencies, disability groups and community groups of all descriptions.
Dunedin Stars 2011 Community Spirit Supreme Award recipient Michael Ferrari had a length and breadth of community service that was "simply staggering", Miss Speirs told the gathering.
A successful businessman and manager, Mr Ferrari has used his skills to help a large number of diverse organisations at local, national and international level through serving on boards or other elected positions for the past 20 years.
His nominator described Mr Ferrari as "very thorough" with an ability to be level-headed and clear-thinking, which "has the effect of bringing people together".
Mr Ferrari's service has included serving on the boards or executives of the Otago Southland Employers' Association, New Zealand Employers' Federation and Business New Zealand, while also sharing his expertise as a business mentor for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Mr Ferrari has also been a member of grants allocation committees for the Community Organisation Grants Scheme and charitable funding organisation United Way.
He has also been a trustee of the Creative Arts Trust, a member of the Ngai Tahu Sinclair Wetlands Working Group, and a stalwart of the bridge-playing community in Dunedin and Otago.
Mr Ferrari has also volunteered with the Dunedin Citizens Advice Bureau and is a Justice of the Peace.
Alongside his voluntary work, Mr Ferrari runs his own business and is involved in numerous paid committee positions.
After the announcement, a surprised and humble Mr Ferrari said "I was certain I was here just to make up the numbers".
"It was a great event - it was wonderful to hear about so many people doing so much in the community," he said.
Fifteen year-old Ashleigh Keen-Burrow was the recipient of the Dunedin Stars 2011 Young Stars Supreme award.
"There's so many other people out there who have done much more than me, so I didn't expect it," Ashleigh said.
The Otago Girls High School pupil is a member of the school's volunteering club, and is completing a Duke of Edinburgh award.
Ashleigh is also a volunteer at Marne Street Hospital and rest home, spending every Saturday afternoon chatting with residents and helping with serving meals and other tasks.
She also shares time with children at Dunedin Hospital, helping with play activities on Saturday mornings.
Her nominator said Ashleigh "could be out socialising with her friends or playing sport at the weekend, but prefers to be helping others in a volunteer role."
Sharon Bain was the recipient of a Dunedin Stars 2011 Community Spirit Merit Award, acknowledging her vital work for families of children with special needs and chronic conditions in Dunedin and Otago.
Mrs Bain and her husband have two sons, one with autism spectrum disorder, and she has used her knowledge to help hundreds of other families.
Mrs Bain founded the Otago branch of Autism New Zealand seven years ago and established Parent to Parent Otago two years ago.
The success of both organisations and the dedication of Mrs Bain to children with special needs "raise awareness, and the hopes, of families in need in Dunedin and Otago," her nominator said.
"Everyone here is a winner," Mrs Bain said of last night's nominees. "It [receiving the merit award] is so, so special.
"If everyone could just do a little bit, just one good turn a day, it would make a huge difference [in the community]."
Stalwart of the Dunedin arts community Joy Henderson also received a Merit Award in the Dunedin Stars 2011 Community Spirit section.
Mrs Henderson has volunteered for a range of arts and cultural institutions in Dunedin for the past 36 years.
Every year, she gives about 600 of hours of volunteer time to the Mayfair Theatre, Regent Theatre, Dunedin Town Hall and the Otago Theatre Trust in a variety of behind-the-scenes roles.
"I can't believe it," Mrs Henderson said of receiving the award.
"It has been a great privilege to do what I have done - I have enjoyed it immensely."
Taieri College pupil Nathan Burns (17) received a Dunedin Stars 2011 Young Stars Merit Award at last night's ceremony.
Nathan was praised as "a great role model" and "an absolutely top-notch person" by his nominator for his contribution to the sports at his school and the Taieri community.
Not only is Nathan a top-performing pupil academically, he also plays in and coaches basketball, volleyball and cricket teams at Taieri College. He coaches children at Taieri Cricket Club and has coached and refereed miniball.
Receiving the Young Stars merit award "felt pretty good. I was pretty stoked and humbled at the same time," Nathan said.
Dunedin Stars 2011 Young Stars Merit Award recipient Chris Bernhardt (18) was acknowledged for his work with the Malcam Charitable Trust.
The University of Otago law and politics student has volunteered his time on the trust's Youth Development Training programmes and Family and Community programme for young people.
Chris is "a sensitive, caring, empathic young man who is a wonderful role model for his peers," his nominator said.
"You don't do it [volunteer] for the recognition but it's pretty cool," Chris said, after receiving the merit award.
"Winning an award is a good way to keep me motivated to keep doing [volunteering]."